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71 years on, France bestows highest honour on our D-Day hero Neville Henshaw

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 08/10/2015

Neville Henshaw with family members Jordan, Louann and Cynara Turner
Neville Henshaw with family members Jordan, Louann and Cynara Turner
Neville on Normandy’s Gold Beach, where he landed at the age of 18
Neville's Legion d’Honneur medal

More than seven decades after helping to liberate France, a war veteran and adopted son of Co Down will wear that nation's highest award in memory of the 6,000 Allied troops killed in the D-Day landings.

Neville Henshaw has at last received his Legion d'Honneur from the French Government for his role in the 'Longest Day'.

The 91-year-old was one of three former soldiers living in Northern Ireland eligible to receive the decoration for bravery.

George Thompson (89) from Donaghadee, who was in the Special Forces Naval Commando and one of the first to land on the Normandy beaches at the age of 17, is expected to receive his medal by Christmas.

However, the third man, John Leishman, sadly died in April as he waited for his to arrive.

Neville, who lives in Rostrevor, was one of the thousands of British troops involved in D-Day on June 6, 1944.

As the largest seaborne invasion in history, Operation Overlord proved one of the decisive acts which led to the Allies winning the war in Europe.

The French Government announced its intention in July, 2014 "to recognise the selfless acts of heroism and determination displayed by all surviving veterans of the Normandy landings".

However, there was some concern expressed by the soldiers' families at the length of time it was taking to deliver the medals.

Last night Neville told the Belfast Telegraph: "I was delighted to hear the medal was here at last. It was sent to Norman McNarry from Fields of Conflict, who took us over for the Victory in Europe (VE) Day celebrations and organised my application for it.

"The medal is more important to me to honour the 6,000 men who died in that one single day.

"That's what is really important - it's more about them than me.

"But it's a great thing for me to pass on to my family."

Mr McNarry said: "Neville has every reason to feel proud that the French Government has awarded him the country's top accolade, the Legion d'Honneur, for his role over 70 years ago in liberating their country from Nazi tyranny.

"It has been my honour to play a small part in ensuring he received this richly deserved award, which was initiated by the then First Consul of the French Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1802."

Neville hit the beach on June 6, 1944 just four days shy of his 19th birthday while serving as a wireless operator in the Royal Corps of Signals.

Originally from Yorkshire, he has lived in Co Down for more than 40 years.

But while Neville made it up Gold Beach safely, he vividly recalls that a comrade beside him was not so fortunate.

"We were all scared that day," he explained.

"The noise of everything around us was terrific, that's what I remember most.

"I was in a group of four, but I was the only one who survived beyond the beach.

"Two men were wounded and another was shot and dropped down beside me.

"I had thought at first he was just injured.

"But it turned out that he had been shot dead - and you don't forget things like that."

Neville and his unit fought their way through France and into Belgium.

They were in Germany when the war in Europe was finally declared over on VE Day, May 8, 1945.


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